I am not sure if it is the smell of the cardboard or finding dead bugs underneath the sink, but moving never brings out my best.
I may hold the world’s record for the number of times I have boxed up the same turkey roaster in the course of a marriage. In my opinion, wrapping dishes in bubble wrap ranks right up there with cleaning up someone else’s vomit. Actually, it is surprising how willing I am to do that, considering how it reminds me of packing.
The worst thing about moving is that last box. I always pack the first box like Martha Stewart and end up with the finesse of a Caterpillar road grader—push it in and tape it up. I do not even label what is in that last box anymore, because I know that I will never open it anyway. There is something about it—labeling that box filled with an electric sander, my daughter’s used-foil collection, and a loaf of bread—that is just not worth the ink.
This time, we used Taiwanese professionals to pack the big stuff, and we are always amazed at their efficiency. In stark contrast to American movers, who seem to have the metabolism of mud, one Taiwanese mover can haul a refrigerator, an oven, and a sectional sofa—all on his back and in one load. Honestly, Taiwanese movers have the work ethic of a plague of locusts. I can testify to this by the bag of trash I unboxed after they had packed up and moved my kitchen.
In truth, the moving headache is more than just boxes and worker bees. Taiwan apartments are not really built for Texans—take kitchen counters, for instance. What is a suitable height for the GEICO lizard does not work for me. I decided it only made sense to adjust the legs on the modular pressed-wood counters to where my husband would be comfortable doing the dishes (especially since husbands are so much more reliable in the kitchen than geckos).
Then there is the fact that Asian washing machines are purposely located outside, on the back balcony, on an island in the Pacific that has an annual typhoon season. (There is nothing like taking an umbrella with you to do your laundry.) Now remember, you cannot wear your outdoor shoes inside, so you must kick off your inside slippers to put on your outside slippers before you can move your undies into the dryer. Be sure to bring the fabric-softener sheet along, or you will be doing another turn of the Slipper Samba, that well-known Chinese laundry dance.
In an effort to block the rain off the porch, my husband and I had a retractable weather tarp installed across the balcony. We had seen the neon-blue “rain cloth” on lots of porches around the city and had ordered one—in Mandarin! Admittedly, it was not really very aesthetically pleasing, but we hoped this would curb our urge to crawl in the dryer every time we stepped out on the balcony.
By this point in the move, nothing had gone smoothly. I had a feeling that the third day of creation was about to repeat itself—the waters were about to be gathered together into one place and explode out my tear ducts. My husband must have known this too, as he had climbed a ladder on the premise of hanging a ceiling fan. Actually, he was just trying to inhale the last molecules of breathable oxygen from the height of the living room, as it is a well-documented fact that my moods can suck the life out of a room.
It was about this time that two dangerous situations intersected. I discovered a broken Pyrex lid in the bottom of a box, and the doorbell rang unexpectedly.
“If this is bad news,” I warned, “I’m having a meltdown.”
This might seem a vain threat in some families, but in ours, it carried the weight of five Sumo wrestlers. With the acumen of ten years of marriage and with both hands occupied with various fan parts, my husband sensed the peril from the top rung of the ladder.
“Gimme a minute and I’ll get it,” he offered as if the winds and the waves would obey him. I stormed past him and swung open the living-room door to reveal Mr. Wang, our diminutive building manager. As I think back to this poor guy’s countenance, the sweat on his brow and the tremor in his voice should have prompted more compassion. However, my emotional pendulum had swung, and I was doing a little trembling myself.
“Shumah shr?” I barked, asking him what he wanted.
In Mandarin, he began to explain with great diplomacy that the awning we had just purchased was not within the building code. I remember him saying this with tact, because the Chinese are always considerate (unless they are talking about your weight or your spending habits, two topics which are about as ubiquitous as smacking rice).
Back to our awning—it seems that there was some written restriction on ugly, cobalt-blue tarps in OUR complex. Not that we could have read it in the fine print of our rental contract at any rate, as: 1) Chinese characters looked like an unburned bonfire pile to us, and 2) these pyro-hieroglyphics would have been written in .00001 font! Nevertheless, we HAD signed the contract with our own “stack of sticks” meaning that (evidently) the ugliest thing we had agreed to dangle from our balcony was an assortment of stained underwear like everyone else.
This news did not sit well with me.
Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night could stop the eruption of tears. Leaving the door as wide-open as our building manager’s eyes, I turned to sob my way into the bathroom.
In the meantime, my husband was trying to disengage himself from the fan and get down the ladder. He too had heard the news.
“I’m so sorry,” my husband offered in Mandarin to the stranger, whose face matched the color of the rice he no doubt had for lunch. Receiving no response, he tried again in Chinese, “Can I help you?”
After a considerable pause, Mr. Wang stammered in broken English, “Your wife…she…ees…CRY!”
Because my husband knew that responding to Mr. Wang in his native tongue would put him at ease, he replied, “No plobrem. My wife ees many times cry.”
It seems that in that moment, a mysterious heart bonding came over the two men. This was not a David-and-Jonathan relationship, you understand, as no armor was exchanged. Yet they took pity on one another—one for temporarily experiencing one of my moods, and the other for having to live with that revolving door daily.
In the end, the next time Mr. Wang came to our door, it was to inform us that our landlord had surprisingly decided to enclose our entire balcony with sliding glass windows.
So I ask you—who said public demonstration of emotion is inappropriate in the Chinese culture?
Question to consider: Have you ever seen “inappropriate” displays of emotion open doors in the culture in which you live?